It seems difficult to find two compositions more divergent than St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. The first one is an action-packed drama, almost demanding a stage for performance. The latter is a contemplative piece, adding a lyrical commentary to each fragment of the Gospel story: thoughtful inner voices of indefinite characters, who try to somehow cope with what they had witnessed. We later recognize that these contemplations and unobtrusive answers reflect our own thoughts, and that we are drawn right into Matthew’s story, almost imperceptibly. If St. John Passion turns us into agitated spectators, St. Matthew Passion sees us as participants, placed in the very centre of events. According to Bach’s confession, he was following the indications of Martin Luther, who encouraged experiencing the history of salvation individually and personally.
“I am not familiar with any opera seria of the period that could match the Passions by Bach in terms of dramatic strength or the moral issues they tackle” – admits Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who will conduct St. Matthew Passion in Wrocław performed by English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir and first-rate soloists such as Mark Padmore as the Evangelist, Stephan Loges as Jesus and soprano Hannah Morrison. In search of the best way to render the dramatic quality of the piece, Gardiner is always trying to arrange the artists in the spatial setup of the Leipzig Thomaskirche. Obviously, it is impossible to reproduce the past realities, also because they are not exactly known today: the passing time blurred the details. Still, one can try and follow the ideas of Bach, for whom dialogue between groups of performers located in different places inside the church was a significant mean of expression, and a key element of dramaturgy.
Meditations on Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Fifth Evangelist”, will be a worthy culmination of the International Festival Wratislavia Cantans, an event which enters the second half-century of its existence.